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Former SCSU, Grand Forks Red River defenseman Jon Lizotte excited to have 2-way deal with Wild

A former Minot Minotauros captain who was a walk-on for the Huskies, he signed his 1st NHL deal in July after 2-plus seasons on AHL deals

SCSU-vs.-Colorado-29-Jon-Lizotte
St. Cloud State's Jon Lizotte (10) skates the puck past Colorado College's Kristian Blumenschein during the third period Friday, Feb. 8, 2019, at the Herb Brooks National Hockey Center in St. Cloud, Minn. Lizotte, a Grand Forks Red River High School graduate, recently completed his college eligibility for the Huskies. Jason Wachter/The Rink Live

With the drought and fire restrictions in the upper Midwest, Jon Lizotte says that sales were a bit down for Lizotte Fireworks, which is an annual business he manages near Minot, N.D.

"We only had rain maybe two days of rain in June and there were fire bans," he said. "People were kind of hesitant to buy stuff. It was a little slow."

But the month of July had some very good news for Lizotte's full-time job. Lizotte, a 26-year-old defenseman and St. Cloud State graduate, signed a one-year, two-way contract with the Minnesota Wild on July 28. Lizotte's deal will be worth $750,000 if he's in the NHL and $175,000 if he's in the American Hockey League with the Iowa Wild.

Lizotte, who grew up in Grand Forks and helped Red River High School win two state titles (2011, 2013), has spent the past two-plus seasons playing for the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins on American Hockey League contracts. Getting a two-way NHL contract means a great deal to Lizotte, who had an offer to return to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton on another AHL deal.

"I definitely didn't know what direction free agency was going," said Lizotte, who is living in Burnsville this summer. "With only having AHL contracts the last two years, obviously, I wanted an NHL deal. There was a possibility that some things were going to have to change and it just happened to be that Minnesota was kind of a good fit for what I was looking for.

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"It just really worked out well. The relationship with (Wild general manager) Billy Guerin with him signing me at Wilkes before he left (the Penguins), there was some familiarity. It's nice to be able to stay around here."

In 94 AHL games with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, Lizotte had four goals, 28 points, 35 penalty minutes and was a plus-8. Getting an NHL contract is a step toward his ultimate goal and he has learned to be patient throughout his career.

Lizotte did not have NCAA Division I colleges knocking his door down when he was at Red River. He then played two seasons for the Minot Minotauros in the North American Hockey League and ended up accepting an offer to walk on with the Huskies the summer before his freshman season in 2015.

Lizotte played 147 games and was a plus-47 for the Huskies and was the defensive partner his last two seasons with Jimmy Schuldt, a two-time top 10 finalist for the Hobey Baker Award. And now he is taking the next step in his pro career, getting his first NHL deal.

"It was definitely what I was pushing for and really wanted, to get that opportunity," he said. "That's really how my whole career had kind of gone, just pushing through to the next level, step by step and taking advantage of every opportunity that I get."

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As it was for all pro hockey players, last season had its challenges for Lizotte with the pandemic, the AHL season starting late and no playoffs. But Lizotte played in all 32 of the Penguins' games and had nine points and 23 penalty minutes.

"To be able to play in every game and not miss anything with any major rehabs — that can dwindle your mental side," said Lizotte, who battled through a knee injury in 2019-20. "I'm very lucky.

"I thought it went really well. Right when it started, you were just happy to play and not really thinking about playoffs," Lizotte said of last season after having 2019-20 end before the end of the regular season because of the pandemic. "When you do realize that there's no playoffs, it's a mental thing that you have to push through to keep driving and something to keep you going. For me, I had a one-year contract and I had to find another spot and prove what I had."

Lizotte is listed at 6-foot and 210 pounds and said that he has had a smooth transition to pro hockey.

"Overall, I think my game has truly stayed the same and, if anything, I get to do it even more," he said. "Pro has kind of opened that up and it's a lot more physical, which actually helps my game. I love the pro game. It's fast, physical, everyone is good and you've always got to be aware of what's going on."

And now he will see if he can make it to the NHL with the Wild. With Ryan Suter getting cut, Carson Soucy getting taken by the Seattle Kraken in the NHL expansion draft and the free agency departure of Ian Cole, there is opportunity with the Wild on defense.

"From what I've heard in how they like to play, it matches my style," said Lizotte, who is known for his relentless play. "They're a swarming team on both the AHL and the NHL teams.

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"My game is shut down stuff and I'm excited and I thought it would work out well. And the numbers game, with all the departures, it's kind of opened up a lot of stuff."

Lizotte said he is working out regularly with former Huskies Ryan Poehling (Montreal Canadiens) and Schuldt (Buffalo Sabres) under trainer Kirk Olson at Training Haus in Eagan.

For more hockey news: The Rink Live is your top-shelf destination for regional hockey coverage. Situated in the country's premiere hockey footprint, skate on over for exclusive content and the latest in college, USHL and high school hockey. Subscribers to Forum Communications' network of newspapers also enjoy access to The Rink Live as part of their membership.

Mick Hatten is a reporter and editor for Forum News Service and helps manage TheRinkLive.com, a website dedicated to hockey. He began working for Forum Communications in November 2018 and has covered St. Cloud State University hockey since 2010. A graduate of St. Cloud State, he has more than 30 years of experience as a journalist and has been a youth hockey coach since 2014. mhatten@forumcomm.com
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